BORUSSIA DORTMUND are currently one of the most popular teams in world football. Five points off the top of the Bundesliga playing an entertaining brand of football, they are often seen as the barometer for how teams without bottomless resources should approach the game. High tempo, good scouting and a great team ethic.
Yet, despite the clear references to ourselves, many Liverpool fans may not have actually sat down and watched them play for 90 minutes recently, and even if they have it might not have been solely with the intention of studying how they might play against us.
With that in mind, I watched their league game from the weekend, when they came from behind at home to beat Werder Bremen 3-2.
Dortmund, as you have probably heard, are in brilliant form. They are unbeaten in 2016, winning 15 and drawing just two. Against Bremen, who started the game one point above the relegation zone having been beaten by top of the league Bayern Munich 5-0 in their last game, Dortmund made five changes from their previous league game — a 3-1 win at our friends Augsburg.
There was a double change at centre half with Matt Hummels rested and Sokratis Papastathopoulos unwell. Ex-Liverpool player Nuri Sahin (below), ex-Manchester United player Shinji Kagawa and ex-America de Cali player Adrian Ramos also dropped out, although the latter two came off the bench and both scored goals.
Of those who missed out, both Hummels and Kagawa look certain to start against Liverpool. Hummels started both games for Germany in the international break and, with a minor injury crises at centre half with Neven Subotic ruled out for the rest of the season, it was probably thought he shouldn’t be risked.
They are also being careful with Sahin, who is just back from a long-term injury and was back in the Turkey squad, not to everyone at Dortmund’s delight. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sahin plays Thursday if Ilkay Gundogan is not deemed fit enough to start.
The Dortmund starting line-up was Roman Burki in goal, a back four of Lukas Piszczek, Matthias Ginter, Sven Bender and Marcel Schmelzer; a midfield three of Julian Weigl, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Gonzalo Castro, with Erik Durm and Marco Reus wide of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front.
The most obvious observation from the start of the game is that Borussia Dortmund love the ball.
Since Thomas Tuchel took over as manager from Jürgen Klopp, one of the main changes is that they are much more patient. They are quite happy to pass it across the back line, with Weigl dropping back to pick it up and start attacks.
Weigl, at just 20 years of age, has played more games for Dortmund than anyone else this season and is a lovely player to watch. One that seems to be born with a complete understanding of how to run a game.
Dortmund also, very famously, hate you having the ball. Aubameyang sets the tempo early on by sprinting 30 yards to charge down the Bremen goalkeeper after four minutes and nearly gets his reward, the clearance bouncing off his head and across the open goal.
Divock Origi should be made to watch Aubameyang videos every day. Loaned out all round Europe by AC Milan as a youngster, and signed by Dortmund for a song, he has become one of the hottest strikers in Europe through his desire, exceptional movement and cool finishing.
In the weekend’s game he demonstrated all three. He is happy to drop deep and get involved in play, and he frequently pulls wide to provide an out ball, yet as soon as Dortmund win the ball and break, and they win the ball and break a lot, he is on the shoulder of the last man waiting to go.
This is how Dortmund score their first goal just after half time. Their strength is not just winning it back but being able to turn that into a chance no matter where on the field they recover the ball. Bremen misplace a pass around the halfway line on the side of the pitch, yet seconds and three quick passes later it is in the back of the net.
Until that moment, however, there was plenty to give Liverpool encouragement.
Dortmund looked dangerous when they won the ball, but struggled to create chances when Bremen had their defence and midfield set.
This may have been partly because Durm, normally a full back, was playing as a wide forward instead of someone like Kagawa.
Durm was a good outlet for his team, and could have scored a couple of goals, but it was rather like watching Jose Enrique when he used to play as a wide forward — all purpose and strength but lacking a touch of finesse. I’d be very surprised to see him play there against Liverpool .
Generally it must be said that when Bremen got themselves organised Dortmund looked a little blunt until late in the game.
It was surprisingly comfortable for a team whose manager spoke before the game about damage limitation and concerns over their goal difference in a relegation battle.
Dortmund were reduced to shooting from outside the box, Aubameyang himself had three efforts from 18 yards-plus, which considering they have only scored one of their 64 goals from outside the area this season demonstrates how they were getting frustrated.
When Dortmund let them have the ball for more than 10 seconds Bremen also managed to create chances.
It needs pointing out that Dortmund had a makeshift defence — Bender is a midfielder really — but they still play a very high line that Daniel Sturridge especially might be able to exploit, and they got some joy with balls between full back and centre half and balls over the top.
Anthony Ujah was inches away from opening the scoring early on for Bremen, and he also got decent change running the channels.
But let’s not pretend this is going to be easy. Dortmund will have the majority of the ball and Liverpool will have to be patient, disciplined and wait for their chances.
When they were good they were frightening against Bremen. They aren’t a team who batter you, and gradually break you down. They are explosive, bursting into action in devastating fashion. Mkhitaryan is the embodiment of this as much as anyone. He had a quiet game overall, yet finished with two assists.
They went from 2-1 down to 3-2 up in the blink of an eye. They didn’t let Bremen enjoy being ahead for two minutes — then they immediately brought two attacking players on. You feel the manager, players and supporters all recognise the importance of momentum. About striking at vital times.
They dealt blows to the opposition they couldn’t recover from. After they went ahead late on their tempo increased, rather than sitting back and accepting what they had.
The second goal is a peach from Kagawa. When they can get their full-backs forward they are much more of a threat as it allows them to get all three forwards, plus usually Mkhitaryan, into the box. Their movement and purpose would be a danger to anyone and midfielders will have to track their runners.
So how do we win?
Our shape will be very important. I expect Klopp to play a similar 4-2-3-1 to what we saw away at Augsburg — something that seemed even at the time to be a practice for more important away European fixtures to come.
If so, that will allow us to stay compact and difficult to break down, while hopefully being a danger on the break. However, Klopp may throw a curve ball and play two up front, allowing him to negate the press and go long.
Whatever we do we need to cut out the mistakes that were so prevalent on Saturday as Dortmund won’t be as generous as Spurs if we keep giving them the ball.
I’m not too worried about the atmosphere though. It’s noisy and entertaining, but rarely intimidating. Our players should relish playing in front of that crowd rather than fear it.
Limit errors and avoid getting caught with the ball. Go long into the channels if necessary and take your chances when they arrive. Concentrate. Concentrate. Try to get in behind them.
A prediction? Goals for each side and we’re still in it at Anfield.